Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, November 20, 2015

Grant allows attorney to offer free mediation to low-income parents

Attorney Joe Manuel has secured a grant that enables him to offer free mediation services to low-income clients seeking to establish or increase parenting time. - (Photo by David Laprad)

Attorney Joe Manuel has secured a grant that allows him to offer mediation services to fathers and mothers seeking to establish or increase parenting time. The grant comes courtesy of the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), and applies to certain parties in the Circuit Courts for Hamilton County.

To be eligible for free mediation services, the parties must meet four criteria established by the AOC: they must be the parents of a minor child; both parties must be pro se, or without representation; one party must be seeking to establish or increase parenting time; and both parties must be either indigent or meet the low income guidelines.

“It’s a narrow area, but it’s designed to help people who fall into a specific category,” Manuel says.

Manuel says free mediation will allow parents who are stuck in the legal system due to money issues, or simply lack understanding on how to proceed, to resolve their child visitation issues. “Judges will often order parties to mediate their parenting issues,” he says. “But when people don’t have representation, or can’t afford to pay a mediator, they tend to not be able to move forward.”

Manuel is currently working to identify parties that would qualify for free mediation under the AOC’s terms. He attends Circuit Court motion calls on Mondays to determine if there are parties present who might meet the criteria, and he’s combing through the files at the courthouse to identify the same.

Manuel is a Chattanooga trial lawyer with 37 years of experience practicing law in Tennessee and Georgia. He has devoted a substantial part of his practice to arbitration and mediation since becoming a trained mediator in 1991, an American Arbitration Association Arbitrator in 1992, and a Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31 listed general and family mediator in 1997. Among his many written works about mediation and arbitration is a collection of online CLE courses titled “The ADR Professor Series.”

Manuel says he prefers to use the collaborative approach when mediating. He says this works well when resolving parental matters. “Our traditional justice system is an adversarial system. It’s also designed to be backward-looking. It’s not fun, it takes a long time, and it’s expensive, but it works well,” he says. “On the other hand, mediation is forward-looking, which lends itself to divorces in which children are involved. How are you going to move forward as parents? You’re not going to be married, but you’re still going to be parents. What’s that going to look like? A collaborative approach works well.”

The compensation Manuel will receive through the grant is modest; however, he’s more pleased with being in a position to help others. “This is a way for me to give back to the community and my profession,” he says. “It will allow people who cannot afford me or another mediator to move through the system, and it will get these cases off the judges’ dockets.”

Manuel asks lawyers who know of parties who would qualify for the service to contact him at (423) 266-3535. In addition, applications for free mediation services are available in the Circuit Court clerk’s office.